With consumption of ultra-processed packaged foods soaring to unprecedented levels, India is prioritizing the adoption of a science backed Front of Pack Labeling (FOPL). At an event in Kolkata recently, leading industry representative and food manufacturers said a global best practice FOPL would be a major boost for increasing exports of packaged food products especially those produced by MSME units in the global market.
India clocks one of the highest growth rates for ultra-processed food and beverages – items high in added sugar, salt and additives, besides being ultra-processed. According to Euro monitor sales data from 2006-2019, the retail value of packaged junk food and soft drinks in India grew by 42 times in just 13 years. The food processing industry, which the Govt. of India views as a major sector for employment generation, is currently worth $ 200 billion and expected to grow to $ 500 billion. With 32% of the Indian food market covered by the ‘processing industry,’ the massive MSME sector manufacturing delectable and highly popular desi snacks and confectionaries, is a key driver of this exponential growth. Recognizing this potential the government is incentivizing food parks for processing industry and also has an eye on enhancing the export of processed foods. The Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Food Processing Industries (PLISFPI) with a fiscal outlay of Rs. 10900 crores, encourages global standard food manufacturing companies in India and supports Indian food brands for export in the international market.
Speaking at the event, Debarshi Goswami, Assistant Manager, NIVAZ, Assam said, “World over the food industry is taking steps to ensure that their products are safe and healthy for the consumers. We are eager to put Indian food products on the global stage by adopting labels that in line with best practices from around the world. India can become a trend setter if it goes ahead and adopts ‘high in’ style warning labels.”
Indian consumers will spend $ 6 trillion by 2030 on processed and branded food products. With ultra-processed food taking over the dietary preferences and buying decisions of consumers, the food industry is taking cognizance of the critical role that powerful and simple to understand warnings on food packets, can play.
This gathering of food companies and industry associations from six states, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Assam and West Bengal, comes at a time when the apex food regulator of the country, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), is deliberating on a much-awaited FOPL regulation for India. While FSSAI has expressed a preference for ‘health stars rating’ which experts say would be misleading for consumers, doctors and scientific communities say that India should adopt ‘warning labels’ – the global best standard, not just for its staggering disease burden, but also to ensure its exponentially growing food market is ready for a healthier future.
Concluding the event, Advocate Ajoy Hazarika, Secretary, Consumers’ Legal Protection Forum, Assam said, “It is heartening to note that the food industry who are the main stakeholders, are ready to adopt a label that is best for the country.”